LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012) – Indiana Derby (Grade II) winner Neck ’n Neck is the 120-pound starting high weight for his first race against older horses when he headlines Friday’s 20th running of the Grade III, $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Fresh off a length victory in the $513,600 Indiana Derby three weeks ago at Hoosier Park, Neck ’n Neck will use Friday’s race as a steppingstone to the Grade I, $400,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Friday, Nov. 24.
The Flower Alley colt has shown an affinity for the Churchill Downs oval with three wins from five starts, including a 7 ¼-length romp in the Matt Winn (GIII) in June. Overall, he has won four of his 13 starts and $609,776.
Brian Hernandez Jr. will ride the 3-year-old colt for trainer Ian Wilkes. One day later, the two will team again in an attempt to land the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita with Whitney Handicap (GI) champ Fort Larned, the 5-1 co-second choice on the morning line.
Neck ’n Neck’s stiffest competition could be multiple Grade II winner Dominus, a 4-year-old son of Smart Strike trained by Todd Pletcher who returns to the main track after two tries on turf, including a victory over Data Link in the Bernard Baruch (GII) at Saratoga. As a 3-year-old, he won the Dwyer (GII) at Belmont Park by 1 ¾ lengths.
Also entered is 3-year-old Fort Loudon, who won the Carry Back (GIII) in July and finished a half-length back of Willy Beamin in the Grade I King’s Bishop (GI) at Saratoga. He is trained by Hall of Famer and two-time Kentucky Derby winner Nick Zito.
The Ack Ack Handicap field, from the rail out (with jockey and assigned weight): Zimmer (Victor Lebron, 116 pounds); Neck ’n Neck (Hernandez Jr., 120); Stealcase (Miguel Mena, 116); Dominus (Shaun Bridgmohan, 118); Grand Berry-ARG (Joe Rocco Jr., 116); Seruni (Jon Court, 114); Good Lord (Gabriel Saez, 116); and Fort Loudon (Jesus Castanon, 118).
The Ack Ack was expected to include multiple Grade II winner Aikenite but the 5-year-old re-injured an ankle, according to Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell, and was not entered.
The Ack Ack will be run as Race 9 at 4:38 p.m. (all times Eastern) on a 10-race program that begins at 12:40 p.m. and concludes at 5:08 p.m. The card also includes a $52,000 first-level allowance for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course and a pair of maiden special weight races for 2-year-olds: an open race at one mile on turf (Race 3) and a six-furlong sprint for fillies (Race 7).
The Ack Ack honors the 1969 Derby Trial winner, who won the mile race in 1:34 2/5 – a stakes record that stands today. At age 5, he became America’s most dominant horse, winning seven straight graded stakes on dirt and turf over a variety of distances under the care of legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham. In turn, he was crowned the 1971 Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male and Champion Sprinter.
In addition to the live action, Churchill Downs will simulcast the first of the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Southern California’s Santa Anita on Friday. A simulcast of the 10-race Championship Friday card from Santa Anita will begin at 2:15 p.m. and the six Breeders’ Cup races will cover Races 4-9 from 4:06 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. When live racing concludes, simulcast wagering on the Breeders’ Cup will continue in the ITW area on the second floor of the Clubhouse, as well as the Turf Club and Horseman’s Services Center. Customers who attend Churchill Downs on Friday will be able to advance wager on the entire Championship Saturday program from Santa Anita.
Friday also marks the return of Churchill Downs’ popular Friday Happy Hours. Between 3-5 p.m., there will be $2 Budweiser and Bud Light drink specials plus live music by J.D. Shelburne in the new Plaza area adjacent to the saddling paddock and Gate 1.